Unknown Origins

Jon S. Baird on Filmmaking

October 02, 2020 Jon S Baird Season 1 Episode 1
Unknown Origins
Jon S. Baird on Filmmaking
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Jon S Baird provides perspective on what it means to be a Hollywood Filmmaker. From BBC Television to Hollywood Movie Director, Golden Globes nominee and BAFTA award winner, collaborations with Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle, Jim Carrey, Mick Jagger, and a host of award-winning actors, Jon is one of Britain's most exciting directorial talents.

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Roy Sharples:

Hello, I'm Roy Sharples, and welcome to the unknown origins podcast. Why are you listening to this podcast? Are you an industry expert? Looking for insights? are you growing your career? Or are you a dear friend, helping to spar your old pylon? I created the unknown origins podcast to have the most inspiring conversations with creative industry personalities and experts about entrepreneurship, pop culture, art, music, film and fashion. from BBC television, to Hollywood movie director, Golden Globe nominee, and BAFTA Award winner to collaborate with Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle, Jim Carrey, Mick Jagger, and a host of award winning actors. filmmaker john s. Bear has directed all artistic and dramatic aspects of filmmaking by visualizing screenplays, choosing the cost locations, and production design, and gaining technical experts and actors to bring it all to life. Hello, and welcome, john. What inspired and attracted you to be a filmmaker?

Jon S. Baird:

Well, well, first of all, for me, it wasn't so much film as such. At the beginning, it was more sort of performance. And I got to film through theater, and storytelling, really, the two the two things that got me interested in filmmaking, was going to the theater as a young kids musical theater lived up in north part of Scotland, where there wasn't much cultural activity going on. But we used to visit my uncle down in London who worked on and we would always go to these new musical theater shows. And I remember going to see things like Oliver and my fair lady and all these really incredible sort of musical theater productions and being in this sort of euphoria when they came out. And I always thought I wanted to be an actor, I think in them at that point as a kid, and that sort of never left me. And it was only later when I grew up, and I started watching my Scorsese or, or Mike Lee or Francis Coppola. Stanley Kubrick was a big, a big sort of influence on me wanting to be a filmmaker as well. But certainly the origins of it came through musical theater and performance. That was the first time I got the bug.

Roy Sharples:

So what does being a filmmaker mean to you?

Jon S. Baird:

It's a huge part of my identity now, because I run my own business. Really, filmmaking is my life, I don't separate my private life from my work life. Because when I'm on holiday, or whether it's a weekend, I'm always reading or I'm always writing scripts, or I'm always taking calls about whether it's a movie I'm working on out present, or I want to work on the future, or it's a book I'm interested in getting the option for. So really, for me, filmmaking is my whole life. And what really sort of defines me, it doesn't feel as though I'm going to work, that's the nicest thing you can say, with being a filmmaker, it's when I wake up in the morning, I don't have the dreaded thing that I used to have before it was a filmmaker of goodness, I'm gonna go to work now or, you know, get on my plane. It's a job that I don't like. It's something that I love. And it's something that, that I'm very lucky to be doing. But as I said, being a filmmaker was my identity. Really? That's great.

Roy Sharples:

So from idea to completion? What is your creative process from from making films? For example? Is it something that you, you carefully worked out in advance or improvise as you go along? The pre production production and post production stages? Or does it just depend on kind of what the project is?

Jon S. Baird:

I certainly am not one for improvising. You know, for me, it's all in the plan. And yet it's all in the really the script is your Bible. And it's about getting the script, right. Yeah, I would never go into a production until I was 100%. happy with the script. And maybe that's why I haven't done as many films is, as I could have done, but I would rather so I take the time to get everything right, first of all, with a script. And then in pre production, which includes halen, the right crew for the right job, and you don't necessarily take the most experienced, you take the people who are most passionate about the script, who understand the story who can bring their particular skills to the genre of film that you're making. That's a big part of the planning process. It storyboard in the film, for example, you know, you get the script and then you if you're lucky enough to work in a budget that allows a visual concept artist, you'll work with someone and bring that to life, to give all the crew an idea of what is in your head and how you bring it forward. Whether it's rehearsing the actors, choosing your locations, the planning of our film is years in the making. The shooting of the film actually is the shortest part of the process. Yeah, usually usually shoot a movie you're talking about. Between Finland how big the budget is that makes sense seven to 10 weeks at the moment and the big studio movies or not. So that's the short part, the pre production is years in the making. Sometimes, the post production, the editing is a huge beast, it's another year as well. So, in a nutshell, the more planning you do, the more creativity you have on set, because you can fall back on a plan doesn't mean to say you have to do exactly how you plan, there is room for a little bit more improvisation. If you've got a plan to fall back on, that my advice to people would be put the time in at the beginning, in the analogy would be like building a house, you know, you want to build the house and the rocks, you don't build on the sun, you dig a big Foundation, you don't just throw something up prefab, if you have the resources not to do I know it's in the planning, everything's on the plan. And for me,

Roy Sharples:

Magic takes planning. Although the creative process for moviemaking may appear magical, especially when ideas can come from and how they are brought to form. The reality is ideas only come to life by doing the work. Put the effort and time into upfront planning, by visualizing the entire movie with the end in mind, then work back from the outcome that you want to determine your priorities and the critical path on how to get there in a specific order and sequence of events. Except it can and will change be agile and adaptive. As you iterate and learn staying focused, motivated and disciplined.

Jon S. Baird:

I think the simplest way to sort of explain it is I always look at it like a teacher would in a class or a parent would with a child or someone with a with a pet, as someone who's just got a new pet would look if something or someone is looking to you for guidance. They want you to have the answers. They want you to have the discipline, they want you to make them feel safe. So being a director is you have to be an uncle, a brother, a psychologist, a coach a teacher, you need to be people's friend, sometimes you need to be something slightly hard on them, if they're not doing what they should be what they're getting paid to do. And that includes actors as well as true, you should be a guiding light in that you're the glue that holds this whole thing together. We're actors in slightly different sometimes they have to trust you. Yeah, they have to trust you. And sometimes they play games, sometimes they will test you and the first day of production, they'll they'll throw something in there to make sure that you're looking they'll maybe do a particularly buy, take or partake on purpose, just to see if you'll let it go. And if you do, let it go. They'll question you or I didn't like that. Why did you let that go? So so they want you to be honest with them. They want you to be truthful with them and you want they want to be able to trust you. Is it like any form of human relationship is if you're being yourself, people pick up or not right? As soon as you as soon as you stop being yourself. Even if it's subconsciously people will sniff you out. And they will feel uncomfortable. And they'll think why Why are you hiding? Why are you overcompensate? And what is the issue here now, it's as I say is maybe on a subconscious level, that you're doing it yourself that they are picking up on it, but they just won't be right. So. So the key really, is to be yourself. And that includes if you're not sure to something, ask him for advice. I always try and surround myself with the most highly trained crew. So my I'll make sure that my stalker fee is way more experienced than me. And I'll put my hands up if I don't have it. And I say, Look, you're gonna help me with this. I think the most common mistake is you come into production. And you feel as though you have to have all the answers. Which is not true. You have to be the one who asks the questions and you have to be humble enough to say, Yeah, I need some help with this because it's not a one man job. Yeah, the crew is a 200 person, Beast. And you only learn what by making the mistakes. You know, when I first started, I had all the answers and I certainly did not. But it's just like anything in life. It's through experience and listening to people taking people's advice. And just being true and being yourself I think that's the key.

Roy Sharples:

What was it was a little bit surprising through some of the points that is how strong the need to have really good people leadership can have skills is within that and to be adaptive and, and all those other things that you can have said that no one can coach and be a friend. I think that's a trait that I've always seen with growing up as well as like how good you are with people and how intuitive you are within that and I think that always kind of made you like a natural leader of people as a straight I think that always gonna come through on you as a young And then also your natural persistence, your ability to really organize and execute and to make make things happen. And how disciplined seems that you've kind of been around the projects that you've prioritized and selected on because looking at your portfolio, it's incredibly strong. And it's like you've been working with the best of the best, right? So, obviously, there was a talent there, but also a natural ability, through working with people on the projects, you have this built a reputation. And it's gravitated you towards the creme de la creme, and also the creme de la creme gravitating towards towards yourself, john, so.

Jon S. Baird:

So total credit to yourself, I'd really appreciate a lump in my throat, they

Roy Sharples:

Just gave you a virtual hug!

Jon S. Baird:

That's really nice. I think I'm not born with any of that. Not that has been obviously learned through, I think, maybe, maybe my family, certainly my mom and met and met the female side of my family, especially. But we're very sort of strong and very true on, you know, good people. And I think I've taken, I've taken a bit off of them. And I'd say, my dad was more of a risk taker. So I really believed in himself and was never sort of intimidated by going for the big picture. He obviously made a lot of mistakes. And I think my parents were older than most of the other kids as well. And I think maybe coven their experience in looking at what happened with them. Maybe it rubbed off. It certainly wasn't something I was born with. It was something I learned. When ever, there's a project, it comes out whether it's a film, or there's a news of a film or something. All I'm concerned about is the local Aberdeenshire press gonna cover it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter to me if it's a times, if it's the film magazines, if it's TV I don't care about you can keep up because I want to make sure that people back home, see that I have represented them in a way where I'm trying to reflect good on where I grew up. And it said, I'm so so concerned about what people think of me back there compared to everywhere else. It's it's a really strange thing. That's actually something happening in three weeks time where, you know, our tone that we grew up in Peterhead is has not had a cinema for 30 years. And they're just opening one. They're opening a multi screen cinema that invited me up to for the first night that night, so I can do a little. So good. drummers corner. Oh, wow. And it's actually the location that it used to be. It was a bingo hall. And it was all sorts of different Yeah, back in the 50s. Back in the 50s. It was a cinema, it was where my mom and dad had their first day making 52 Wow, so so so it'll, it'll mean a bit. But no, I, as I say, I'm far more sort of interested in how I'm perceived up there than anywhere. So what are the key skills and capabilities that you believe is required to be a film director, Jon? I think you have to be a good listener, particularly with the actors, they'll have these insecurities or have these ideas, but sometimes you need to work out what they really mean. Yeah, because they'll maybe say something, but they're meaning something else. So you need to really listen and try. You know, you're gonna be a problem solver and work out Oh, and as I said, before, a psychologist to, to really sort of soak up What is going on? you obviously need to be a storyteller. I think something I always say to people who who are aspiring filmmakers is, can you tell a story. And it's quite a brutal thing. If you can't sit down with your family or your friends, and tell them a story. Just tell them. So it doesn't have to be a complicated story, just a story. If you can't sit down and tell him the beats of story and keep them engaged, then you're maybe going to struggle a bit more to be a filmmaker, because it's all about storytelling. It's forget about the visual language or forget about anything else. It's being able to know the beats or the structure or form structure sometimes or whatever. And storytelling is not rocket science. There's a lot of smoke and mirrors, which they put around it that are amazing how you can do that. And it's not really it's just about telling stories. So I think that that's a key thing.

Roy Sharples:

A well told story engages the mind, heart and soul, by conveying purpose and meaning, that help us understand ourselves and find common ground with others. Turning what we see into insights that Spread. storyboarding helps define a story's parameters, and how to develop the movie, within the constraints of time and resources.

Jon S. Baird:

I think you've got to be humble, I think you've got to, you've got to be humble in a way where you have to accept that sometimes other people's ideas are better than yours. And you've got to be humble enough to say, yeah, ideas actually better that's gonna go in, rather than being insistent that your idea is the best idea, just for the sake of of getting your idea in it and cutting your nose off to spite your face sort of thing. So I think, again, you have to be you have to be humble, you have to be collaborative, you have to have discipline, you've also got to be an architect as well. That's the one yeah, learned from you have to be an actor you. Spielberg talks about this quite a bit, that the hardest thing of making a film is getting out of the car in the morning, because it's terrifying. You turn up in the morning and unset there's 100 200 300 people waiting for you. They're all waiting for you for an answer. You're always what they all want an answer from you for something other than your makeup, sound. You know, Layton, whatever it props, whatever it may be, they all want an answer. And even though you have major panic and say, or you have no idea, the costume designer walks up, john, you're a red tie and a blue tie. red tie. Okay, maybe no idea what, but give them an answer. Right? Give them give them some direction. You can change your mind later. Go You know what? A blue tie some of you stand out. Do you think? You know, you'll get crucified? Because people will pick up when you have to be decisive? Yeah, as I say, you have to look as though you know what you're doing? Yeah, nobody really knows what they're doing. And you know, the big guys that this guy says is that all these guys will, will attest it up,

Roy Sharples:

Know where to look what questions to ask and have the mental toughness to persist in the face of setback as you navigate through the unknown towards invisible horizons is about being creative on your feet by thinking and adapting quickly, providing clarity, generating energy, and having a bias for action, which force multiplies productivity and drive success? So from working with people like like Scorsese, Danny Boyle, and Jim Carrey, what were the key observations that you made of them around their craft and how they got things done?

Jon S. Baird:

Oh, very different. I mean, Danny Boyle, and monster city are miles apart. And their approach was very justified on wallet. But but but very different. I think both have an incredible energy. Yes to guys. But I think like Scorsese, for example, he's Italian, obviously, fine. But you know, he's Italian descent and, and he will take time. Yeah, he will take time he sees he will take time to discuss things in the famous details. Yeah. And go off on tangents and tell you about these incredible stories, or roughly reference these incredible films, and give you that and have everybody almost like the class and go and listen to your story on set, you know, and he'll do this and, and he's, he's a real enigma. You know, when you work with him. He's a real Enigma, somebody like Danny Daniel Turner, you'll have no entourage you have no assistant, he'll just come. He's one of the crew. He literally died, he will sneak in and he's one of the crew and he'll just go on with it. And he's real. Most of the people, you're both Academy Award winners, right for these guys. With an incredibly different approach to to filmmaking, Danny, more grounded, and sort of not so much of film royalties as Mr. Scorsese, who is who is in my opinion that god you know, yeah, as a filmmaker, you don't need to meet these people to learn from them. You look at the land, you know, filmmaking, you look at their movies, and then you see how they make film. what's what's more interesting is when you work with them in person, is how they deal with the studio's how they deal with the politics, how they deal with the producers, how they conduct themselves in a meeting, right? How they, how they buy themselves some extra time how they get what they want. Yeah, that's what I learned from those guys. Yeah. The funny story I always tell is, is sort of the vertical Walter help of you know, where this guy was the director who made like the Warriors on them for eight hours, and the best guy ever, anyway, got to know his wife. She's an agent in LA and I think Walter would have dinner with me and give me some advice. This is like 1015 years ago. I was having dinner with Walter and I was asking him all the stories and it's an incredibly self fulfilling, welcoming goodness, it wasn't one of the bits of advice that you'd give us. On a young upcoming filmmaker, and he says, Well, I'm going to tell you the same thing that roll Walsh, who was a very famous director, but in the 30s, when a Scorsese heroes, this is I'm going to tell you what overall was told to me when I was your age, and I asked him the same question. And he said, this is three rules. He says, the first thing he says, never sleep with a leading lady, unless you're going to do it all the way through the chute. And the second thing was always change your shoes at lunchtime. Because you feel as though you're going into a new day, which is a genius piece of advice. I do it all the time. Do you actually you do you wear trainers morning? afternoon or vice versa? Just so you feel as though you are? You know, you're going and fresh? Yeah. He says the top thing is always let the actors choose their own hearts. He says whatever you do, don't try and tell the Okta what kind of heart to use. And he says, because it'll just become a disaster. And he's completely right and more broad and not really having choice over a bit of personal question, whether it's a belt, or some shoes, or a pair of specs or whatever, give them up because they know the character, they know who these people are. And it sounds really flippant, and it sounds as though those strange, strange kind of bits of advice to those three, I always laugh at lunchtime, when I'm changing my shoes, shoes, I think it will take a while to help. It's totally what, and it doesn't sound very technical. And it sounds a bit strange, about boring. And it's like what, but those are the kind of little tidbits you pick up from these guys. And you think that this is gold, you know,

Roy Sharples:

Stand on the shoulders of giants, by surrounding yourself with the industry's best talent, seeking their counsel, capitalizing on their strengths, expertise and insights, by putting it into action as a collective unit, and fostering a creative atmosphere that nurtures talent to create without fear. So you've got your rearview mirror, john, you can look back upon your career to date. If you are 18 again now, nd you know what you do now, hat would you do differently, f at all, anything in the ontext of what are the lessons earned in terms of the pitfalls o avoid, and the keys to uccess that you can share with spiring filmmakers?

Jon S. Baird:

If I made so many mistakes as a young kid, because I never had a clue of how to get into filmmaking, any connections in the film industry. And I mean, I didn't get into the film industry until I was 26 years old. And I I made tea for tea and coffee for people for two years before I did anything, so. So I was very lazy. And then so my advice would be start as young as you can't make go 10 years old, she wants to be a filmmaker, you know, I let her use my iPhone to, to make these little short films and stuff. And I would, I would, I would advise everyone, this technology you have in your phone is so far advanced. Now I say, Go them don't don't say oh, I don't have the tools to make it. You do your iPhone and whoever you know, you'll be able to make something and go and start practicing from as soon as you know, you want to be a filmmaker, go and start making films because that's the way to go. And you'll learn, you'll learn about weight shots and and what to use as a close up and how to do reverse. And that just through trial and error. You'll just learn about that. And what was the biggest mistake I made was joking around for too much on not being serious about doing the work of getting experience or doing I wasted a hell of a lot of time. As a young kid, No, me, maybe you could turn around and say, Well, you know, if you hadn't done would you be the person you are knowing you appreciate what you've got now. So maybe that's the balance. But yeah, I think if I had my time again, I would have started a lot a lot earlier. And I would have you know, tried to get more experience and push myself a little bit harder as a youngster. Because I was walking in the wilderness from my early 20s. I was always I always had no idea what was good, what was going on at all. So that would be my my key advice is start as young as you can. And keep going. And keep watching movies. That's a big thing. Keep watching films, keep reading about films, you know, try writing scripts. And don't be shy because there's a lot. There's a lot of terrible, terrible films that have been made, that a lot of people have gone to see. So I would say I would say you know, it's just subjective. So start as young as you can.

Roy Sharples:

Yeah. Brilliant. So looking forward, john, what's your vision for the future of filmmaking?

Jon S. Baird:

The future cinema is in a very strange place at home because of COVID. Yeah, and because of two things because of COVID. And because the streamers and I think both of those have conspired to To really threaten cinema as we know it. I think if Tennant hadn't been out, cinema could have been in real real trouble, I think it still isn't a bit of trouble. But because a tenant has grown, prove that some people will go to the cinema. And this is by itself a little bit more time. But I think Netflix than in Apple and on, on Hulu, and these guys, Amazon and these guys are now going to be the big studios. They're going to be the Warner Brothers and the universals and the MGM and the foxes of of yesteryear. They're the new the new big guys. So people are now going to be watching more things at home more things in the foreign stuff. And so filmmaking will have to adapt to that. And in a good way, there's a lot more resources as well, because these guys have thrown a hell of a lot of money at productions. Yeah. And there's more things being made. Because because they need the product, they need the content that desperate for it, there's a huge opportunity. A real common point just knows a huge opportunity to make sales, whether wherever they're going to be seen, whether it's in the cinema, whether it's at home or in your laptop, there are opportunities for people to to go and make stuff. The future is very bright. I think in terms of filmmaking. I mean, in terms of technologies, who knows, because it changes so quickly. I mean, I hope we don't get into a world where it's just all CGI, you know, fish replacement, and all that stuff, I just thought would just be too much. But there has to be a bit of that. Obviously, I'm working on a movie at the moment, we're relying on visual effects, because it's a period movie. But at the heart of it, it's still going to be the same thing as the ancient Greeks did. Which is to tell him, yeah, that's what it is. It's still always about storytelling, regardless of how big your action sequences are, how big explosion is, how good your fights are, doesn't matter if you don't have a story. Now. What I'd like to finish by saying is, there's nothing really I could point you towards in terms of stuff that I've done, you know, if you want to look at my films they create if no, then find that may not be for you. It's for a younger audience. But I would say for aspiring filmmakers, there's one book, and I'm not a massive fan of all the film books, but there's one book I found, which was recommended to me by Martin Scorsese, who actually wrote the foreword, and this book and it's called on filmmaking by Alexander Mackendrick. I was on McKendrick was a famous director back in the 50s, that off Ealing comedies, and then he went to CalArts, and California to teach filmmaking. And it's such a phenomenal book. And it breaks it down into simplistic terms, very well thought out and well crafted teaching methods about scripts making the boat script right and yeah, you know about photography directed and all that. And that's like the Bible, I think in this particularly because it was recommended to me by my hero. And as I say, Scorsese's the foreword, and anything that he recommends, you should really be you should be thinking about, that's what I would do, I would get that book and study it from cover to cover. I've made three films and quite a lot of TV. I'm on the fourth film, though, and I still refer to it all the time as I'm making the movies. Yeah. So I would say that's the book to get. And I've recommended this book so many times, I think I should really start getting royalties. So you shouldn't because there's a lot of people but but but but no, I would say I would be my inspiration is go and get that book because it'll change your life as a filmmaker when you get

Roy Sharples:

Excellent Jon, tha k you so much for your insights nd your inspired story. Al the way through a really ap reciate it

Jon S. Baird:

Has been a pleasure. pleasure speaking again, right,

Roy Sharples:

Start young, learn fast and never give up. Perfection comes with persistence and practice over time. The key is just a start. Dreams are only realized through doing the work, free yourself from others expectations and walk away from the games and boundaries they impose upon you. Dream it. Do it. You have been listening to the unknown origins podcast. Please follow us subscribe, rate and review us. For more information go to unknown origins.com Thank you for listening!

What inspired you to be a Filmmaker?
What does being a Filmmaker mean to you?
What is your Creative Process?
What are the key skills needed to be a Filmmaker?
Lessons learned: Pitfalls to avoid & keys to success
What is your vision for the future of Filmmaking?